When I ask search committees for competencies or qualities they feel are critical in their next hire, I always hear people express the need for a good leader. The problem is identifying what leadership means as a group, so when my client starts selecting a candidate, everyone is on the same sheet of music.
“I know it when I see it.”
“Leaders are the people who others want to follow.”
I get a couple of simple explanations, but trying to figure it out from the interview can be a confusing assignment.
There has been an incredible amount of research related to leadership, and well-documented historical work that looks at past behavior, that ties an individual’s leadership capabilities to success. There is no way in this article that I can thoroughly explain “leadership” as a competency in the hiring process, but I thought I’d share a few thoughts for your consideration:
1. Leaders come in all kinds of shapes, styles and sizes. Some are vocal and have big performative needs, while others enjoy remaining in the background pulling the right strings at the right time. Bottom line — don’t be fooled by initial impressions; dig deeper.
2. It’s always difficult to predict the future, but you may find the answers you seek if you look at a candidate’s past leadership roles. The number one indicator of future success is still past performance.
3. Every company has needs depending on where the company is in its life cycle. Look closely at where your company is today and where your plans are taking you. Decide which leadership qualities are most important. Also, look closely at your candidates to see which leadership qualities the candidates used in past roles.
4. People often confuse management capabilities with leadership competencies. A leader typically employs an approach that encompasses the short-term and the long-term view to identify the most important outcomes the company must achieve. On the other hand, a good manager puts the people, processes and accountabilities in place to accomplish a leader’s desired results.
5. If I had to pick one competency that separates good managers from leaders, its visioning. Leaders must have the ability to identify long-term strategic goals and be able to solve difficult problems through careful and systematic evaluation of the information, possible alternatives and consequences.
6. Leaders need to know when to delegate and when a decision is theirs to make. When a leader delegates, choosing the appropriate people to carry out the goal is imperative. The leader must push as much responsibility and authority down in the organization as possible but never forget about holding people accountable.
7. In today’s world, everything is changing so quickly that a leader must be able to take action to support and implement change to keep up with the pace.
8. Once the direction is communicated to everyone in the company, the leader must be the driver for results, changing and pushing the organization (and themselves) to excel and achieve.
9. Leaders need to be more than just politically aware. They must have organizational savvy, recognize and understand organizational politics, and work within organizational dynamics to accomplish objectives.
10. Some people say nothing else matters if the person on top cannot be trusted, and I agree. It is imperative that the leader has integrity and upholds a high standard of fairness and ethics in everyday words and actions.
11. A leader can be shy but must still make effective presentations and written communications. A well-told story goes a long way in convincing people to get on board. Leaders are special people who must have the courage of their convictions yet are flexible, adaptable and open to alternative solutions when interacting with others. Leaders need to have the ability to understand the attitudes, needs, interests and perspectives of others and balance those perspectives with their own experience, education and knowledge.
Lauri Flanagan, SHRM-SCP is president of Management Resource Group, LTD.